It seems fitting that on this Memorial Day we pause to ponder a large, existential question – do things happen for a reason?
Here’s how I think about it: Some things happen for clear reasons, others do not. Sometimes events require that educators for their own peace of mind make a distinction between things that appear to happen for a reason and those that don’t.
Some of the events that that require discernment capture widespread attention. Sandy Hook Elementary School and Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma readily come to mind. Others are more local in nature – the illness or death of a child, the suffering of families, and so on.
Some people, of course, believe everything happens for a reason. I do not happen to be in that group, although at times I wish that I was.
Seth Godin ponders this issue in a blog post
he titled, “Does it happen for a reason?”
“Reasons are nearly always the things we make up to explain what happened, not the actual cause of what happened…,” Godin writes. “There are two things to be done with that fact. The first is to identify the few things that do happen for a reason and learn from them, as opposed to ignoring the available lesson… And the second is to take the (essentially) random events and choose to respond (as opposed to an overreaction). The big opportunity is to figure out how to take advantage of the change that was just handed to us, even if it wasn’t for us, about us, or what we were hoping for.”
The challenge, of course, for all of us in both our personal and professional lives is to see events, no matter their cause, as opportunities for learning, growth, and improvement rather than as reasons for resignation and hopelessness.
How do you think about tragedies and other significant events in ways that promote both peace of mind and opportunities for learning and growth?
Evil is powerful.
Human resilience is even more powerful.
That belief sustains me through difficult times.
And it is sustaining me now through this time of great sorrow in Newtown and far beyond.
I have found myself thinking this morning about the tens of thousands of school leaders welcoming, comforting, and supporting their school communities as they return from a somber weekend of grieving and reflection after Friday’s unfathomable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
My thoughts turned to a 92-year-old hospice patient with whom I had spent yesterday afternoon.
She told me that her life had taught her about the importance of celebration, noting that even a dreary afternoon, like the one we were peering out into, could be toasted with a glass of wine, which she happened to have near at hand as we spoke.
School leadership is about supporting the community as it grapples with difficult issues, like loss and sadness and fear. It is also about celebrating what the school community is and what it can be.
Such leadership requires listening deeply and compassionately to what is in the hearts and minds of community members.
It also requires focusing the community on the strengths it possesses and the resilience that has carried it through other challenging times.
I am confident that such conversations are occurring in schools across the country.
At such moments I am especially proud to be a part of the education profession.
In the wake of last Friday’s overwhelming tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut I stand in awe of and am deeply moved by the bravery and unflinching dedication of Principal Dawn Hochsprung and other educators in that school who gave their lives for their students.
Given the nature of the principals and teachers I have been privileged to know throughout my career, I am not surprised by their actions nor the ultimate price they paid for their dedication.
In the days ahead many others will undoubtedly find the most fitting words to describe them as human beings and as educators.
When I think of the losses to death in my own life I recall numbness, disbelief, and an altered reality from which I thought I would never awake. As I have sought to absorb the news accounts from Newtown I have found myself living in a similar altered state of consciousness from which I cannot escape.
Over the past few years as as a hospice volunteer I have led grief support groups for the spouses and partners, siblings and children, and other loved ones of hospice patients.
These grieving individuals learn that their feelings and reactions are shared by others and find support in community as live their lives one day or even one hour at a time.
They teach me and one another about compassion and love, the importance of mutual support, and the power of human resilience in the face of tragedies that they often cannot find words to express.
The school community of Sandy Hook will undoubtedly teach us those lessons and others as we send it our prayers and observe it from afar in the days and weeks ahead.